Review: ‘Desperados,’ starring Nasim Pedrad, Lamorne Morris, Anna Camp, Sarah Burns, Robbie Amell and Heather Graham

July 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sarah Burns, Nasim Pedrad and Anna Camp in “Desperados” (Photo by Cate Cameron/Netflix)

“Desperados”

Directed by LP

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and Mexico, the romantic comedy “Desperados” features a racially diverse cast (white, African American, Latino) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A desperate-to-be-married woman is convinced her new boyfriend will break up with her after sending him a hateful email over a misunderstanding, so she enlists two of her female friends to go with her to Mexico, where he’s on vacation, in order to delete the email before he sees it.

Culture Audience: “Desperados” will appeal primarily to people who like predictable and often unrealistic romantic comedies.

Nasim Pedrad and Lamorne Morris  in “Desperados” (Photo by Cate Cameron/Netflix)

As long as the messy and very fake reality TV franchise “The Bachelor” continues to attract millions of viewers, there will always be a big-enough audience for messy and very fake romantic comedies like “Desperados.” This movie is as formulaic and predictable as you might expect. But worst of all, “Desperados” wants to pretend that it’s feminist and edgy, when it’s really not. “Desperados”—directed by LP (the work alias for Lauren Palmigiano) and written by Ellen Rapaport—might have all the appearances of a contemporary film. But at its core, the film’s message about how women should act and how women should be rewarded when looking for love is as old-fashioned as a Doris Day movie.

In “Desperados,” the central character is Wesley “Wes” Darya (played by Nasim Pedrad), a divorced, childless woman in her late 30s who’s living in Los Angeles and experiencing an early mid-life crisis. After ditching a career in corporate finance, Wes has decided to become a high-school guidance counselor. She’s been struggling to find a job (mostly because she ruins her interviews by being a vulgar motormouth), and she’s having a hard time paying her bills. Things have gotten so bad for Wes that when she gets an occasional babysitting job from a friend, she steals food from the family’s refrigerator.

Wes’ love life isn’t going so well either, since she isn’t seeing anyone special, and her recent dates have been duds. Wes also has a serious case of social-media envy, since she’s obsessed with comparing her life to the seemingly wonderful lives of her friends and other peers. Wes is also starting to feel her biological clock ticking, since she’s contemplating freezing her eggs when she has the money to do that procedure.

Wes’ two best friends—Brooke Barnes (played by Anna Camp) and Kaylie Mills (played by Sarah Burns)—are the same age as Wes. Brooke and her husband have a baby son together. Kaylie and her husband have been unsuccessfully trying to conceive a child. Wes envies Brooke and Kaylie, just because Brooke and Kaylie are married and don’t seem to have any money problems.

One day, while Wes and Kaylie are over at Brooke’s place, Wes begins complaining about her life. They advise her that it’s not healthy to compare her life to other people’s lives on social media, because people always hide their problems. Brooke tells Wes that marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, while Kaylie says that infertility can put a big strain on a relationship where two people desperately want to have a child. But Wes doesn’t want to hear about how her two best friends feel about their marriages. In Wes’ mind, she’s gotten the rawest deal out of the three of them, because she has no man, no job and no children.

Something that sets Wes over the edge while she wallows in self-pity is hearing that her ex-husband Erik has gotten engaged. Wes finds out when Erik leaves her a voicemail message to tell her the news. And by the way, as Erik says in his message, he and his fiancée are featured in a romantic photo spread in the latest issue of Brides magazine. Of course, Wes rushes to a magazine stand to look at the article, and her jealousy goes into overdrive when she finds out that Erik’s fiancée is younger, prettier and more accomplished than Wes is.

Wes is even more desperate to find a new man, now that she knows her ex-husband is getting married. Wes goes on a blind date that was set up by a mutual friend. The friend (whose name is Tad and who’s never seen in the movie) has set Wes up with a widower named Sean McGuire (played by Lamorne Morris), who texts and calls her in a friendly conversation before the date. (Jason Mitchell was originally cast in the Sean McGuire role, before he was fired in 2019 over a #MeToo scandal on the Showtime series “The Chi,” and he lost other jobs as a result.) Sean and Wes agree that if their blind date goes badly for either of them, they should use the code word “no” to end the date right there, with no hard feelings.

Wes’ date with Sean at a casual restaurant starts off pretty well—until she starts blabbering about how all of her friends have great jobs and great relationships and that her ex-husband is getting married. At this point in her life, Wes is old enough to know that sounding like a whiny and jealous shrew is not the way to make a good impression on a first date. But she’s so self-absorbed that she doesn’t realize that she’s turning off Sean, until he tells her the code word “no.”

At first, Wes doesn’t understand that Sean wants to end the date. But when she finally realizes that he’s done with the date and wants to leave, she rips into him about how hard her life is and how hard it is to find a good man in Los Angeles. Okay, well, that rant is just going to confirm that he made the right decision to end the date. Sean is a gentleman, and he lets Wes leave in a huff.

As an angry Wes storms out of the restaurant, she trips on one of the steps and falls flat on her face. And lo and behold, she’s helped up by a handsome stranger named Jared Sterling (played by Robbie Amell), who invites her over to his place that night. And when Wes gets a look at Jared’s home, it’s obvious that Jared is doing very well financially.

Wes is flustered, partly because Jared seems like her dream man, but also because her fall outside the restaurant has left her a little dazed. She half-jokingly tells Jared that her brain might not be working correctly because of the fall. And he responds by telling her that it’s okay, because he doesn’t want her to think too hard—as in, he doesn’t want her to be too smart for him. This demeaning comment would be a red flag to any self-respecting person, but Wes is too dazzled by Jared’s good looks and apparent wealth to notice that he wants a dumb, submissive girlfriend who’ll go along with whatever he wants.

Wes makes the same mistake that many women do in banal romantic comedies like this one: She pretends to be someone she’s not in order to “get the guy.” Wes pretends to like the same things that Jared does, which is shown in a montage that’s kind of cringeworthy and not very funny. Wes and Jared eventually become lovers, and the first time they have sex together, she’s already imagining them married with children.

Shortly after they’ve started sleeping together, Jared suddenly “ghosts” Wes. And, of course, after she calls and texts and still doesn’t hear from Jared, she assumes that this is his way of breaking up with her. Once again, Wes goes on a “poor me” diatribe about her love life when she’s hanging out with Brooke and Kaylie. In a drunken rage, Wes decides to send a hateful email to Jared from her laptop, by calling him all kinds of names and even mentioning his dead father as a way to hurt Jared. Brooke and Kaylie get caught up in it too, and they help Wes write some other things in the hate mail.

Wes has been stealing Wi-Fi service from a neighbor, so sending the email takes longer than expected. While Brooke and Kaylie oversee the laptop to send the email, Wes gets a phone call and takes the call in another room. The caller is Jared, who is calling from a hospital in Mexico. It turns out he’s been in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where he got into a terrible car accident and was in a coma for several days.

When she realizes that this is the reason why she didn’t hear from Jared, Wes frantically tries to stop Brooke and Kaylie from sending the email before it’s too late. But, of course, it is too late. The email was already sent.

Wes is terrified that Jared will read the email and break up with her. She rejects the idea of sending a follow-up apology email, because she doesn’t want Jared to get any hint that she’s a psycho you-know-what. And so, because Jared mentioned that because of the car accident, all of his belongings (including his phone) are still at his hotel in Cabo San Lucas, Wes comes up with the extremely dumb idea of going to Mexico to find Jared’s cell phone, hack into it, and delete the email before he can see it. Jared is expected to be discharged from the hospital in a few days, so of course there’s a “race against time” to find his phone.

Brooke, who is the most cautious and level-headed of the three friends, thinks it’s a bad idea. Kaylie, who’s the type of friend who believes that a Mexican shaman can help her become fertile, thinks it’s a great idea. Ultimately, Brooke is convinced to go on the trip because she thinks it’s a good excuse to go on a vacation to Mexico.

And so, off the three friends go with no real plan to find and hack into Jared’s phone, except for Wes’ vague notion that they can walk around the resort where he’s staying and keep calling his phone, in the hope that they’ll hear his ringtone somewhere in this big resort. Never mind that they have no idea what room he’s staying at in the resort. (Hotels don’t give out that information for privacy reasons.)

You know exactly how this movie is going to end as soon as (surprise, surprise) Wes sees that Sean is staying at the exact same resort too. Before the inevitable happens, there are some repetitive pedophilia jokes involving an adolescent boy named Nolan Ryan Phillippe (played by Toby Grey), who’s about 12 or 13 years old, and staying with his protective mother Debbie (played by Jessica Chaffin) at the resort. Nolan develops a crush on Wes, who (through a series of slapstick circumstances to get to Jared’s room) ends up in the same room as Nolan wearing nothing but a towel, and Debbie catches Wes with her precious little boy.

It doesn’t help that Debbie’s horrified first impression of Wes was when Wes arrived at the resort, and Wes’ vibrator accidentally dropped out of her purse in front of Nolan. Of course, Nolan picked up the vibrator and asked his mother what kind of toy it is. This type of vibrator joke has been done before in so many other movies (such as in 2019’s “Good Boys”) that it’s an example of how unoriginal and uninspired “Desperados” is in when it comes to sight gags.

Heather Graham has a small role in the movie as Angel de la Paz, the “healer” whom Kaylie has hired to give her guidance about her fertility issues. The way this scene ends is very predictable, considering that Angel makes it obvious with her touchy-feely ways that she’s more interested in spending time with Brooke than she is with Kaylie. And the resort’s native Mexican workers Ramon (played by Rodrigo Franco) and Quintano (played by Izzy Diaz) are vaguely written characters that are treated as gullible idiots by the self-centered Wes when she needs to con or trick them into doing something for her.

Although Pedrad is a charismatic comedian in other projects, she’s saddled with playing a loathsome, less-than-smart character in “Desperados.” The derivative screenwriting is difficult to overcome for any actors looking to do something unique with their roles in this movie. Morris’ Sean character is literally the straight man to Wes’ insufferable antics, and he doesn’t have much to do, except to play the “nice guy,” who’s a lot more patient with Wes than he should be. (Pedrad and Morris played love interests in the sitcom “New Girl,” so at least they look comfortable working together.) The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles, with no particular standouts.

The main character in a romantic comedy doesn’t have to be “likable,” but audiences should expect the character to be believable. The reason why Wes (and most of this movie) is a big emotional fraud is because she tries to act like she’s an independent woman who can think and do things for herself, when the whole story revolves around her thinking that her life will be “ruined,” based on one angry email that she wrote to a boyfriend. This is how teenagers feel, not women in their 30s who are supposed to be emotionally mature.

In fact, almost everything that Wes does is based on what she wants other people to think about her, not what will actually make her happy. Later in the film, Sean does a big favor for Wes that causes a significant change in her life, but she couldn’t even accomplish that change on her own. The essential message of “Desperados” is that Wes needs a man to “rescue” her. It’s a very outdated mindset for a movie that tries to pass itself off as “modern” or “feminist.”

“Desperados” throws in a lot of cursing and raunchy humor to make it look like it isn’t mawkish and sentimental. But in the end, this often-dull movie is just as sappy and unrealistic as the trite romantic comedies that are on the Hallmark Channel.

Netflix premiered “Desperados” on July 3, 2020

Review: ‘Bloodshot’ (2020), starring Vin Diesel

March 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Vin Diesel in “Bloodshot” (Photo by Graham Bartholomew)

“Bloodshot” (2020)

Directed by David S. F. Wilson

Culture Representation: Taking place in various cities around the world, the sci-fi/action flick “Bloodshot” has a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) and a story that revolves around a U.S. military soldier who’s brought back from the dead, as well as the current and former members of a secret high-tech organization that’s experimenting on him to make him into an easily manipulated killing machine.

Culture Clash: Certain characters in the story have ethical dilemmas about using technology to train assassins.

Culture Audience: “Bloodshot” will appeal primarily to fans of star Vin Diesel and the comic-book series on which the movie is based, but the movie’s formulaic tropes will have little interest to people who aren’t die-hard fans of action movies.

Guy Pearce and Vin Diesel in “Bloodshot” (Photo by Graham Bartholomew)

Vin Diesel is best known for starring in the wildly successful car-racing “Fast and Furious” franchise since 2001, when the first “The Fast and the Furious” movie made him famous. Ever since then, he’s starred in multiple action movies that were clearly made with the hopes that they too would become blockbuster franchises with a series of several movies, but none outside of “The Fast and the Furious” and “XXX” (pronounced “triple X”) has panned out to be that way.

The sci-fi/action flick “Bloodshot” (based on the Valiant Comics series) is another attempt by Diesel (who’s one of the movie’s producers) to try and create a movie-franchise vehicle for himself, and this attempt will also fail. Although “Bloodshot” is a passably enjoyable film, the movie doesn’t have the charisma to make it the type of film where audiences will demand any sequels. This personality deficit in the movie has largely do with the fact that Diesel is a very robotic actor, which is no surprise to anyone who’s seen most of his films.

“Bloodshot” begins with a montage of Diesel’s Ray Garrison character on active duty as a U.S. Marines soldier. He saves a man from a hostage situation and ends up at Ariano Air Force Base in Italy, where he gets praise for his rescue mission. All of this globetrotting away from home has put a strain on his marriage to his British wife Gina (played by Talulah Riley), who’s an action-flick cliché of being the hero’s modelesque love interest who (of course) gets half-naked in the movie. Gina comments to Ray about his soldier duties, “At some point, your body can’t do this forever,” in what is supposed to pass as deep, meaningful insight in her dialogue.

Sure enough, Ray does get killed. But how he gets killed might or might not have happened in the way people might think it happened, since the movie plays tricks on characters’ minds about what’s real and what isn’t. What does happen on screen is that Ray is ambushed and kidnapped by two men in his bathroom. The next thing Ray knows, he’s tied to a chair in a slaughterhouse, where he undergoes a brutal interrogation about information that he swears that he doesn’t know.

Ray’s tormenter/interrogator in this kidnapping is Martin Axe (played by Toby Kebbell), who’s clearly unhinged because he starts dancing to the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” before showing that Gina has been kidnapped and tied up too. And then Gina gets murdered in front of Ray.

As viewers soon see, the entire tragic scene was an elaborate virtual-reality manipulation that later will be used on Ray, who is dead in real life and being experimented on by a secret American high-tech organization called Rising Spirit Technologies (RST), led by the overly ambitious mad scientist Dr. Emil Harting (played by Guy Pearce). Harting wants to perfect a technology that can resurrect soldiers from the dead and train them to be assassins with superpowers. He plans to sell this technology to the highest bidder, and he expects to make billions. (This isn’t a spoiler, since this concept of reanimating Ray from the dead is in the movie’s trailer and it’s the origin story in the “Bloodshot” comics.)

Ray finds out that he’s been brought back from the dead when Harting shows Ray how he’s undergone a blood transfusion that has replaced his blood with a plasma-like liquid filled with molecular creatures that can quickly rebuild his body in any way after getting injuries or wounds, thereby making Ray virtually indestructible. (The visual effects for “Bloodshot” are actually quite good, but they won’t be winning any awards.)

Ray is the first person that RST has been able to bring back to life, according to what Harting says. Harting also says that no family members claimed Ray after Ray’s death, so that’s why Ray’s body ended up at RST. Ray’s memory has been erased, so he has no way to know if Harting is telling him the truth, and he’s trapped in the facility anyway. In order to ease Ray’s fears, Harting puts a positive spin on the situation by telling Ray that Ray now has a second chance at life. What he doesn’t tell Ray is that Ray is being used by RST to see if Ray can be turned into an easily programmable killing machine.

At RST, Ray meets three people who are also part of RST’s experiments: Katie, nicknamed KT (played by Eiza González), is someone whose respiratory system has been restored into something high-tech that can be controlled by Harting. Jimmy Dalton (played by Sam Heughan) is Harting’s most loyal foot soldier (literally), since his legs have been replaced by super-speedy mechanical limbs. Jimmy has other high-tech abilities that are revealed later in the story. Tibbs (played by Alex Hernandez), the quietest of the three, has ocular prosthetics that give him a superhuman ability to see.

What viewers see but what Ray doesn’t is that RST can create virtual worlds in Ray’s mind and erase his memories to start over and implant other ideas in his mind whenever they want. And what Harting wants to do in this phase of the experiment is to see if he can get Ray to complete a series of assassinations around the world, by tricking Ray into thinking that each of the men he assassinates is the same man who murdered Gina in front of Ray.

In order to do that, RST has to erase Ray’s memories every time he completes an assassination and start over by replacing Gina’s murder re-enactment with a different image of each man as the murderer, who will then be the target of Ray’s revenge assassination. And who are these men that Ray is supposed to kill? And why does Harting want them killed? Those details are revealed in the movie.

Meanwhile, KT gets a little closer to Ray, and there are hints that she’s attracted to him and wants a better life than the one she’s trapped in at RST. There’s also a fast-talking coding whiz named Wilfred Wigans (played by Lamorne Morris), a Brit who’s the comic relief in the movie. Wigans has a self-deprecating sense of humor that shows he’s aware that he’s a nerd who gets disrespected, but he’s determined to have the last laugh. Wigans is the only character in the movie who seems to have a personality that goes beyond two dimensions.

Most people who want to see “Bloodshot” will be interested in the action sequences. And some of these scenes are thrilling, particularly the movie’s best action scene, which takes place on a skyscraper. But the assassination scenes are very formulaic, especially since there are video games that have upped the ante and people’s expectations for this type of action.

In this age of Marvel Studios’ domination of superhero flicks, movie audiences are now expecting a lot more from superhero movies than what “Bloodshot” delivers, because the movie version of “Bloodshot” is a story that’s on the same quality level as a video game. “Bloodshot” director David S. F. Wilson (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Eric Heisserer) should have kept in mind while making this film that today’s movie audiences want genuine and relatable character development in superhero movies, not just impressive visual effects. Wilson, who makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Bloodshot,” has a visual-effects background in mostly video games, including several “Star Wars” video game titles.

As the ruthless and greedy Dr. Harting, Pearce does a reasonably good job with his character, but he’s already played a memorable mad scientist in a superhero movie before—Aldrich Killian in 2013’s “Iron Man 3.” Since “Iron Man 3” was a much better movie than “Bloodshot,” the latter movie seems like an inferior retread for Pearce, and the Harting character doesn’t have the wounded emotional depth that Killian had.

And in the role of KT, González does a serviceable performance that, quite frankly, could have been played by any number of actresses. Huegan’s soulless Jimmy Dalton character is strictly a one-dimensional role where he has single-minded loyalty to RST and some jealousy toward Ray, who’s being groomed as RST’s alpha male experiment. And as the quiet Tibbs, Hernandez doesn’t have much to do with this character, who’s basically there to just follow Jimmy’s lead.

In order for a superhero movie to go from a one-picture deal to a series franchise, audiences have to want to come back for more because of the personalities of the main characters. In that respect, “Bloodshot” falls woefully short, because as the center of the story and as the titular superhero, Diesel’s acting is almost as artificially lifeless as Ray Garrison/Bloodshot.

Columbia Pictures released “Bloodshot” in U.S. cinemas on March 13, 2020. 

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has moved up the digital and VOD release of “Bloodshot” to March 24, 2020.